From the Archives: the following review and the interview which accompanies it were originally included on The Doctor Who Review, the precursor to this blog.
The Nazad Conspiracy is the first in a new series of audio dramas called The Scarifyers. Although this is not Doctor Who in any shape or form, I believe it will be of considerable interest to Doctor Who fans, as its two leading men are Nicholas Courtney and Terry Molloy. Those who enjoy the UNIT era will get an extra buzz from this: imagine a UNIT spinoff series but set in 1936, and you will be somewhere close to the premise of The Scarifyers. But there is a lot more going on than that. The press release mentions Dick Barton as an influence, which I must confess to having only limited experience of. However, I would draw a parallel with one of its contemporary radio series, and one that is a particular favourite of mine: Paul Temple. There is that same spirit of adventure and mystery here – an evil deed to be solved by our heroes.
The play never takes itself too seriously. In fact, there are several jokes that made me laugh out loud, something that I can rarely say about a Big Finish play, outside of the Bernice Summerfield series. There are a couple of very cheeky references to Doctor Who towards the end which are particularly amusing. I won’t spoil anyone’s enjoyment by revealing too much of the plot, but it concerns an attempt to bring a famous historical figure back to life. The story is extremely well constructed, with some early clues (a circus ticket, the manner of a death, etc.) paying off later on (again, very Paul Temple). The mystery kept me guessing well into the second disk.
Nicholas Courtney and Terry Molloy are an inspired pairing. The former plays Inspector Lionheart, an old bloodhound-of-the-yard type, a natural role for the actor (not a million miles away from an old soldier). The latter plays Professor Dunning, a perfect character for his measured, distinctive voice. Everyone here sounds like they are having great fun, and David Benson pulls off the remarkable feat of performing both of the two most memorable guest characters, General Warlock and Aleister Crowley. Both are hilarious characters, with Crowley sounding like something out of Round the Horne.
I should mention that there is quite a bit of mild swearing throughout so, despite the cute dog, keep the little ones out of the room when you listen to this.
Congratulations must go to Simon Barnard for his authorship and direction of this play, and also to Edwin Sykes for some truly wonderful music (I loved the theme tune). Here’s hoping this first instalment is a commercial success, because The Scarifyers deserves to run and run. I for one can’t wait until the next adventure.
From the archives: the following interview with Simon Barnard was conducted at the time of this audio’s release:
Firstly, for the sake of readers who are not familiar with The Scarifyers, could you explain the premise?
I always say it’s Dick Barton meets The Devil Rides Out, but as I’ve never heard Dick Barton or read Dennis Wheatley that may be paying both of them a huge disservice. It’s a supernatural murder mystery set in 1930s London, featuring Nicholas Courtney as a septuagenarian police inspector who lets his fists do the talking, and Terry Molloy as a history professor/ghost story writer in the same vein as M.R. James.
How did you come to be writing and directing your own audio production?
Two things – the first was an ill-fated attempt to make a film with some friends, and the second was that I work for Radio 1. I’d written a script some time ago about an attempt to bring Hitler back from the dead using his DNA. They take a sample from his last will and testament, which little do they know his dog Blondie had tried to eat – so when he’s reanimated, he returns as half Fuhrer, half Alsatian, much to everyone’s embarrassment. The filming started badly, got worse, and went downhill from there, and as I’d spent a while writing the thing I decided that I could turn it into an audio drama. After all, I worked in radio, hopefully had some idea what I was doing technically, and should have it finished in no time at all. That was a year ago…
Was The Nazad Conspiracy your first foray into writing and directing?
My real job is making radio documentaries, so I write all the scripts for those. I also direct the presenters, so I’ve worked with actors before – Leslie Phillips, Richard O’ Brien, er… Peter Purves, dozens and dozens. Documentaries are a very different beast to drama – even if there’s acting involved, you’re still just talking about 6 or 7 minutes of links – but I had some experience of getting performances from presenters. Last Halloween I also directed a mock live broadcast from our Maida Vale studios investigating a supposed ghost that haunts the studios, so that was my first proper attempt at directing drama.
Outside of work, my house is littered with scripts in various states of completion for various films I’ve attempted to make with friends – just as a hobby, mind. They’re not very good.
How long did it take you to write the play?
Ages! I naively thought I could just alter a line or two of my film script to make it work as an audio script. In the end, I’d say only about 20% of The Nazad Conspiracy is taken from the old script, the rest is new. Because I wanted to set it in the 1930s, that ruled out using Hitler. Then when I found the new villain of the piece, everything else started to fall into place. Their last will and testament, the manner in which they died (which is very important to the story), a lot of the characters in the story and what happened to them, it’s all true. More or less. So that took the story in a completely different direction. I wrote it on the train to work and occasional evenings for… oh, probably six months.
Nicholas Courtney and Terry Molloy seem perfect choices for Lionheart and Dunning. Were they your first choices for the roles, and how did you manage to get them involved with the project?
The whole play was written with Nick Courtney in mind, so if he’d said no I don’t know what I would’ve done! As you so astutely pointed out in your review, it’s basically UNIT but set in the 1930s, so there was only ever one man for the job. I didn’t have anyone in mind when I wrote Professor Dunning, but then I heard Terry narrating a documentary on the Doctor Who – The Beginning DVD, and was struck by what a wonderful voice he has when he’s not trying to rule the universe. So yes, they were both my first choices.
Getting them was easy – I approached Nick’s agent and sent them the script, and they came back very quickly and said he was very interested. Then I agreed to pay him huge amounts of money. Similar thing for Terry.
How did you go about choosing the other actors for the first play?
I’d employed David Benson before to present a documentary in the guise of both Kenneth Williams and Frankie Howerd, and thought he was extraordinarily talented. He’s also very nice – he presented another documentary about Superman for me the other day, and made me a cake. Anyway, not only would he be able to bring out the comedy in the writing, which if you listen to the play you’ll hear he does admirably, but I had the bright idea of giving him a couple of roles and thus saving myself some money!
The others were friends, or friends of friends. Stuart Silver (Dr Slither and Pickering) is a friend, very talented comedian, artist and Perrier award-winner no less, and through him I found Cicely (Lady Walsingham) and Owen (Inspector Fang), who luckily were both very talented themselves.
What sort of schedule did you work to for recording?
We recorded the whole lot quite comfortably in a day, and that was despite a few problems with some of the Russian actors. They couldn’t speak English, which was a bit of an oversight, so attempting to get their lines right took quite a while. In fact, some of their performances we just couldn’t use in the end, so I had to re-record their lines with some other Russian actors and put them in later.
Could you tell us a bit about the experience of working with Nicholas Courtney and Terry Molloy? Were they enjoying themselves as much as it sounds?
At first they both kept crying, but eventually pulled themselves together. No… well, they were both lovely, as you’d expect. I’d never met either of them before, though Terry is a very enthusiastic e-mailer, so I was a little nervous about working with them. After all, Nick could’ve been barking orders at me; Terry could’ve rolled up in his Davros chair and kept pointing, could’ve been awful. But they turned up together after getting lost in West London, were very friendly, we had a quick chat about how we were going to do it, and then we just cracked on with it. They’ve both been doing this sort of thing for a while, which helped from my point of view as a first-timer. For me, I just remember it being a lot of fun, lots of laughter, and everyone seeming to enjoy themselves. They both seem happy to do another one anyway, so it can’t have been too dreadful an experience.
Courtney and Molloy both have strong Doctor Who connections. Are you a fan of Doctor Who yourself?
I’m afraid so. But only up to Caves of Androzani, I lost interest in it pretty swiftly after then – I know there are probably lots of people reading this who would defend Colin Baker and McCoy to the hilt, or would champion the merits of some of those stories, but let’s face it, by then Doctor Who was rubbish, and had been heading that way for some time. It was – come on, admit it. So I bought the videos and the DVDs, but they stop with Peter Davison and start again with the new series.
Are there any actors you would particularly like to work with in future productions?
Nick and Terry obviously, and David Benson’s back for part two. Ideally we’d have another ‘name’ actor in each one, but that all depends on money… As far as singling out actors, it seems a little premature to name names. I do have a list in my head, but for the time being that’s where it’s staying!
Will there be any more plays in the series, will you be writing them yourself, and can you give us any hints about what is to come?
The script is almost finished for part two – it’s written by a friend of mine who’s not only a much better writer than me but, more importantly, is writing it in exchange for nothing at all. Things get a little Lovecraftian, that’s all I can say…
If things go okay with the first one then I’d like to record part two in September, and try to get it out before Christmas. I may write part three – I have dastardly plans afoot for Lionheart and Dunning – or maybe someone else will step up to the plate. Of course, this all depends entirely on me making enough money back to cover my costs. These things cost a fair bit to produce, and I simply don’t have enough money to self-finance another one, so if you want to hear part two then support us and buy a copy! Go on, you’ll enjoy it!
Reviewer and Interviewer: RP